Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, Yorkshire, The Humber and North East England: Artists and Subjects 34 Who was the artist 'R. Mc' of this painting of the wreck of the Norwegian Barque 'Jernaes of Risar'?

Wreck of the Norwegian Barque 'Jernaes of Risar'
Topic: Subject or sitter

The Jernaes was wrecked at Hendon Beach on 21 October 1894. The Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade had been called out to rescue the crew. During the rescue one Brigadesman John Leviss, was drowned; the only Brigadesman from Sunderland to lose his life in the course of duty. We did have a Ralph McDonald who was a member at this time but have very little information on him and no reason to believe he was an artist. I was not able to find out more about Ralph McDonald and would not want to put his name forward as the artist.

Kate Gill, Entry reviewed by Art UK

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Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. It has been added to the artwork description field that the artist of this painting remains unknown, signing with the letters R.Mc.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Jacinto Regalado,

Could this be after a newspaper image related to the incident? It looks tolerably professional but hardly by a first-rate marine painter.

May be, but whoever did it was undoubtedly a well-practised hand. Just drawing a wrecked ship convincingly (which it is) from such an angle is a challenge in perspective, be it from a print, photo or actually -which would have to be from another vessel so perhaps less likely given the situation and that the viewpoint is quite high out of the water. First option is likely to be someone fairly local: does anyone have Marshall Hall's 'Artists of Northumbria' to hand just to see if there are any 'Mcs' there?

Cliff Thornton,

The ART UK entry for this painting indicates that it was donated by Mr & Mrs C.T.Dale in 1940. Information received from the collection indicates that the donor was actually Mr & Mrs T.A.Dale. Mr Dale was a marine engineer, and son of an engineer. His wife was Jennie Herring, daughter of the amateur artist John Herring (1859-1925). The painting of the wreck of the Jernaes was one of several paintings donated by the Dale family. Other pictures were by John Herring, suggesting that Mrs Dale had inherited some of her father's works. It is possible that the painting came down to the donors from either side of their respective families.

Louis Musgrove,

The Valley of Love,Sunderland by John Herring( Cliff Thornton above ) looks to me exactly the same style as our painting,especially the water.
As to the Monogram, I see it as R.N Co

Hmmm... I think the short line under the superposed 'c' and the fluent writing of the 'M' including the slight 'miss' as the turn of the brush left a gap top right argues for 'Mc' with Cliff's family pursuit suggestion a good one for an Ancestry hound interested to see if that trail goes anywhere.

A curiosity for Art UK about John Herring is that, for me at least, a search under that name only produces the two John Frederick Herrings - and if Cliff has correctly given his dates (1859-1925) then they ought to be added rather than the current 'active late 19th c' etc.

John Herring of Sunderland, Co. Durham (as it was) is recorded in the 1911 census, aged 52 [so, born 1859) as 'Painter (House)'. His wife was Mary Jane Steel (married 1882), daughters are Annie and Jennie, and son Joseph Steel Herring. In the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses he appears as just 'Painter'. He died on 2 July 1925 in Sunderland.

Jacinto Regalado,

Based on the one example of John Herring's work on Art UK, also in this collection, I personally would not conclude this picture is by him, even apart from the signature, which is obviously not his.

Marcie Doran,

Pieter suggested that the artist was “undoubtedly a well-practised hand”. I have been reviewing the 1911 England Census on Ancestry for people in Northumberland whose first names start with “R” and whose last names start with “Mc”. One man seems to fit the bill as a man who knows about ships: Robert Fergusson McIntosh, aged 45, living with his wife Maggie McIntosh, aged 47, at 225 Wingrove Road, Newcastle upon Tyne. They were both born in Dundee, Forfarshire, Scotland, and both indicated they were “resident” there. Robert’s occupation was “naval architect - warship construction”. His signature at the bottom of that record, attached, shows the same “M” as in the painting’s signature.

A Newcastle upon Tyne electoral register listing for 1939 shows Robert Fergusson McIntosh and Margaret Ann McClean McIntosh still living at 225 Wingrove Road. A probate record shows that Robert died on March 30, 1954 in the Burnbank Nursing Home, Broughty Ferry (Dundee). An Ancestry user’s tree shows that Robert was the son of Henry Glassford Bell McIntosh and Ann Fergusson and that he was born on October 8, 1865. One of his siblings, David Fergusson McIntosh confirmed the death in the probate record.

The 1939 England and Wakes register shows Jennie Dale (b. 1892) and her husband Theophilus A. Dale (b. 1895), “Marine Engineer (3rd)” living at 11, Weldon Avenue, Sunderland with their son Thomas (b. 1919).

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Marcie Doran,

My apologies - the end of the last sentence should be “with their son Theo” (b. 1919)”.

That's an ingenious approach: the sort of evidence that might support is evidence of probably very localised/ amateur exhibition or family knowledge, neither easy to get at.

Marcie Doran,

I do not have expertise in military matters. Dale and McIntosh were likely in the same Company of the Royal Engineers. A search on Ancestry in the “UK, World War I Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920” shows that Theophilus A. Dale was a Corporal in Company WO 329 of the Corps of Royal Engineers. His regiment number was 44675. He was awarded the “British War Medal and Victory Medal”. There was a Robert McIntosh in Company WO 329 of the Corps of Royal Engineers. He was listed as a “sapper”. His regiment number was 420145. He was awarded the “Territorial Force War Medal”.

According to the National Army Museum (
“Corps of Royal Engineers
Formed in 1716, this corps helps keep the British Army in the field by providing engineering and technical support. Known as ‘Sappers’, Royal Engineers have served in all of the Army’s campaigns.”

Probate records show that Margaret Ann McLean McIntosh, of 225 Wingrove Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, “wife of Robert Fergusson McIntosh” passed away on February 17, 1946.

Marcie Doran,

I found Robert in the 1891 and 1901 England Censuses by searching for Maggie since his name had been misspelled. They are listed in the 1891 England Census, living in Newcastle upon Tyne. Robert is shown as “Robert Ferguson Mc Intosh”. He is employed as a “ship draughtsman”. In the 1901 England Census, they are in Newcastle upon Tyne. Robert is shown as “Robert F Mc Intosh”. He is employed as a “naval architect”.

Assuming that the artwork was created in late 1894, following the shipwreck, Robert would have been employed as either a “ship draughtsman” or a “naval architect” at that time.

As stated above, the 1911 England Census is useful because it shows signatures. I have attached two composites that compare the inscription on the painting with the signature box and the name portion of the Census entry. While 17 years had likely passed since the painting was prepared and Robert’s signature would have evolved, I believe there are still many similarities. Perhaps someone who is a handwriting expert can comment. For example, in both: the letters are slanted, the right arm of the R extends down, the middle cup of the “M” is the same, the lowest part of the left arm of the “M” has a heavier dot (when writing “Maggie” and when writing “McIntosh”), the right arm of the “M” extends down, the “c” is elevated, and the periods in the signature box are lined up with the bottom of the left arm of the “R”. With such a long signature, one can see why he might have shortened it on the artwork. If he had had a less common name, he might have written it in full on the artwork.

Allowing that writing with a brush in paint rather than a nib pressing on paper are different, the 'R's, especially in the upper part are not the same, but even were they more so greater evidence is needed to prove that ' R Mc' might by Robert McIntosh.

The old way of advancing this sort of thing would have been to get a photo published in a local newspaper to see if anyone had any family knowledge, or perhaps other work 'hanging around'. That might still be possible, or putting it on some local website (including a paper's, which in this case would be something like the 'Sunderland Echo'). Ideally the collection would do that, since any image used would be theirs, but it's only a suggestion.

As far as Art UK is concerned this could otherwise add to a long list of indefinitely open cases, so while it can remain active a while (say end of September), my provisional recommendation if it gets no further is that Marcie's discovery of McIntosh is recorded just as a speculative local possibility.

Right at the top here it was suggested that the painting might be based on a press image/photo: though not yet found, that's also worth remembering.

Charles Payton,

I have, as one does, become a little interested in this ship. It is obvious from the title of this description that at least one thing is wrong...Risar is actually Risør, Norway in the Arendal maritime district.

Hoping for more I have compiled a cursory few notes about her that may help the juices here and by extraordinary coincidence another version of the picture. See my notes and links attached. I do not yet know where the new picture came from but am trying to find out the source

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Charles Payton,

Upon reflection, I think it may even be a photograph.

Thanks Charles: I'm sure it is a photo, from the back view of the upper half of a figure at lower left. The background 'mountains' at right mentioned in your note are a cloud illusion if you look carefully at the sea horizon line. Despite the angle being a little different it would have been possible to use this photo as partial basis for the painting if one had other sketches (or another photo) from further round to seaward.

Charles Payton,

So far no response from the archive concerning the source of their photograph.

It would presumably be more likely than not that the photographer was local to Sunderland? If so are there any important or otherwise collections of photographs in that area? It would be a good trail to follow but I am afraid I have found nothing online so far.

Charles Payton,

The archive responds as follows

I am sorry, but there is no information connected to the photo. I will contact the one who may have edited the profile of the bark Jærnes tosee if he knows something.
Greetings T.J. Clausen
Lillesand sjømannsforening

Let us hope something turns up.

Osmund Bullock,

Marcie, if you don't know about military matters, it seems to me you have two sensible choices before imagining complex scenarios entirely based on them (and sharing them with us). Either (a) read up on the subject so you can check if your hypothesis makes sense, or (b) don't go there at all.

As to (a), you could for example have tried a simple google search for "WO 329 Royal Engineers", which would have immediately (first result) told you that 'WO 329' is not a company of the RE, but a National Archives reference for their holdings of WWI medal rolls for the whole army and some supporting services (WO stands for 'War Office'). See Yes, I know the Ancestry website says it is the number of the two men's company; but you must have realized by now that while they hold a wonderfully rich range of indexed records, those records are frequently (as here) wrongly listed, described and catalogued, and the written documents are by far the most inaccurately transcribed of any genealogy website - often laughably so, with the transcriptions clearly done by people with no knowledge of European names and places. Ancestry is a wonderful resource, but it is *essential* to double-check any details you take from it.

Osmund Bullock,

So although Corporal Theophilus Dale and your Sapper Robert McIntosh were both in the RE, there is absolutely nothing to indicate that they served anywhere near each other - the RE was a vast Corps during WWI, over 295,000 strong by Aug 1917. And why did you plump for that Robert McIntosh anyway? There are actually four men of the same name listed in the RE medal rolls, not to mention another 90-odd called R(obert) McIntosh/Macintosh in the rest of the army - there is even one called 'Robert Ferguson McIntosh' in the Labout Corps! However, he's not your man, nor are any of the others...because it's quite certain that Robert Fergus(s)on McIntosh, naval architect of Newcastle, was never in the army during WWI. As you yourself told us, he was born in Oct 1865 - did it not occur to you that he was a bit old for a soldier in 1914-18? And in fact at 49 when war broke out (and 53 when it finished) he could not have served, either as an early volunteer or a later conscript. See And incidentally, even if he *had* been young enough he would likely have escaped the call-up: a naval architect working in warship construction would almost certainly have been categorized as holding a reserved or 'starred' occupation, i.e. vital to the war effort.

None of that precludes him from being the artist per se, but with that string of completely spurious evidence lost you're left with practically nothing - like Pieter I can see no significant similarity between the initials on the painting and his signature on the 1911 Census.

It is remakable enough that a corroborative photograph has been found (in a Norwegian archive) which vouches for the general accuracy of the representation, and perhaps over-optimistic to expect more from that direction. The pool (or ocean) of people whose name starts 'Mc' is also so large that - despite what Kate Gill very sensibly said in posing the original question - there is a much greater probability of the Ralph McDonald she mentioned being the painter than anyone else, albeit there is no other known evidence of him being one. It was a dramatic incident, one of his Brigade colleagues died and he would undoubtedly have been able to view the wreck from a boat afterwards, accounting for the offshore perspective. That proves nothing more than possibility and opportunity, but would at least be worth noting.

We can leave this open a while but I rather doubt we'll get further, so that is likely to be the recommendation.

Interesting account of the wreck in the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette - Monday 22 October 1894 - and other local newspapers but sadly no illustrations. One of the 30 members of the Volunteer Life Brigade there was killed in the rescue and the crowd of onlookers was blamed for impeding attempts to save him. The wreck drifted to beneath the cliffs at Hendon, presumably where the photo was taken. The factory with smoking chimneys in the background may be the Patent Fuel Works near where the ship was first stranded, and whose workers went to the aid. An estimated 50,000 onlookers are recorded as having been to see the wreck in subsequent days. On Tuesday it was announced the wreck was to be sold by auction the following Monday.

The abbreviated form of the signature perhaps indicates that the artist knew this would be sufficient to identify himself (or herself) to those who would immediately be viewing the work -- if they were a small group of people with whom he was well acquainted. In other words, it could possibly be Ralph McDonald identifying himself as the author to fellow members of the Sunderland Volunteer Life Brigade.

Marcie Doran,

I have attached the 1891 (in Jarrow) and 1911 England Census (in Gateshead) records for Ralph Bainbridge McDonald who was born on December 2, 1866, according to his entry on the 1939 England and Wales Register. Was he the volunteer mentioned by Kate Gill in the opening entry? If so, does anyone think that his signature shown on the 1911 Census record matches the one on the painting? I think the signature of Robert F. McIntosh is a better match.

An article in the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette about the Marine Engineers’ Union, dated August 8, 1891, mentions officials from local branches and a “Mr. McIntosh (Jarrow)” was included in the list. Note that there was no initial given for his first name. I think he was likely Robert McIntosh and his name was well-known in the local shipping community.

Osmund Bullock,

Re Ralph Bainbridge McDonald, you don’t seem to have considered the geography, Marcie. It seemed pretty clear to me weeks ago that he didn’t make sense from that angle, so I didn’t mention him. But...I suspect you’ll want more detail as to why, though it’s not hard to see if you think about it.

Some background from the internet, all of it completely new to me. In the late C19th the Northumberland / Durham coastline had numerous local Volunteer Life Brigades that used shore-based equipment (mainly rockets that shot lines out to the ships) in conjunction with the Coastguard service and seaborne Lifeboats. There were also some (again shore-based) 'Volunteer Life-Saving Companies' that were raised and run directly by the local Coastguard. The local stations going south from Tynemouth (the first ever founded) were at South Shields (with a VLSC at Marsden), Whitburn, Roker and Sunderland – Sunderland VLB covered the coast south of the River Wear, Roker that north.

You can see from a map that this was pretty dense coverage, and of course in an age before general access to instant communications, it had to be so: the volunteers were called out on emergencies by signal guns, and indeed by people just running or cycling to their homes to tell them. The key word is 'local': there would be no earthly point in having volunteers who lived more than a mile or two from the stretch of coast their watch covered, and most I imagine were a good deal closer. John Leviss, the SVLB volunteer who lost his life during the Jernaes rescue, lived 600 yards from the Watch House by the south end of the docks (at approx. 54.903389, -1.357500), and about a mile by road from where the ship was wrecked.

Ralph Bainbridge McDonald lived at High St, Jarrow in 1891, and at Trevethick St, Gateshead in 1901 & 1911. Exactly when he moved to Gateshead I don’t know, but it was before March 1895 when his son was born there. Look at that map again. Jarrow High St is 7½ miles from the Sunderland Watch House as the crow flies, and the Gateshead address is nearly 11 – he would not even have heard the signal gun in a storm....and even if he had, he would then have had to travel 9 or 13 miles by road to get there (assuming he could distinguish the gun from those at closer stations). So it is vanishingly unlikely he was a volunteer in the Sunderland VLB. And if he was just some sort of administrator or fund-raiser, surely it would have been for the closest brigade at South Shields (still 4 miles away by road)?

Osmund Bullock,

I am also baffled by your continued attachment to the idea of Robert Fergusson McIntosh. Pieter has mentioned the very large size of the “pool (or ocean) of people” whose name begins with 'Mc', and he is right. I did an experimental search of the 1891 & 1901 Censuses on Findmypast (which is more wildcard-friendly) for people called ‘R* Mc*’ aged 18 and over in 1894 (i.e. born 1876 or earlier), and who lived within 5 miles of Sunderland. There were 149 hits in 1891 and 113 in 1901. And since we have no idea if the artist *did* live that close to the wreck (R F McIntosh certainly didn’t), nor if he or she painted it at the time (it could have been done years later, and based on a/the photograph), the actual cohort of possible people is far bigger than that – increasing the radius to 20 miles (to include Newcastle) brings the number in 1891 alone up to 672!! How many did you check, and why only in 1911? Just because RFM was able to draw and quite possibly “well-known in the local shipping community” is evidence of very little in the face of such numbers, I’m afraid, and in truth it’s a quite hopeless task trying to find a non-professional artist of an all-but-unknown name just from the Censuses.

Osmund Bullock,

Some more newspaper stories, and ones of some relevance.

The first is a press report of Sept 1940 about Mrs Dale’s donation of the painting, along with a collection of drawings and watercolour sketches by her father John Herring. The wording is ambivalent, but it could be construed that the painting was by him too – certainly it doesn’t rule it out, and no other name is mentioned. I wonder whether she herself wasn’t sure – she may have suspected it, but been as puzzled as us by the apparent initials that look like a signature (though for reasons that will follow I’m beginning to wonder if they are). Of note is mention that the drawings included ones of another coastal wreck in 1885.

Thanks. Worth seeing since it does not appear to be in the more fluent style of the monogram signature on the painting, so does not support that being by him.

I suggest an end to this discussion is now overdue.

All we can reasonably conclude is that -amateur or low-level 'pro' - the artist must have painted other work given the basic competence shown, may have been fairly local and may have partly worked from a photo. Charles Peyton's discovery of one of the wreck in a Norwegian collection is a 'plus', but it was also well documented in local report: so is the gift of the picture (among others) to Sunderland.

A great deal of labour has gone into fishing in the large pool of 'R.Mc's', for which thanks to those who have done so, but however many are produced -not forgetting Kate Gill's Ralph McDonald mentioned right at the start, and who at least had a collegial group motive despite no more being known of him - only the appearance of other work clearly by the same hand and with the full name attached is going to change that.

Until then I suggest the collection notes the useful documentary sources produced above and (with Art UK) perhaps adjusts the attribution to 'unknown artist, signing "R.Mc." ' Should something new turn up, the matter can always be re-opened.